With the number of injuries to the offensively-charged players on the Pittsburgh Penguins roster, the team has turned to dominating the game using a less attractive, and many times overlooked, statistic to their advantage. For defenseman Ian Cole, that means courageously sacrificing his body as often as possible by placing himself between the puck and his goalie. So far, that ideology has proved to be hugely successful and a definite pain in the ass for the Washington Capitals this series.
In Game 4, the shots on goal tally was extremely lop-sided, favoring the losing Capitals. Pittsburgh was out-shot 38-19, but ended up leaving PPG Paints Arena up 3-1 in the series on a 3-2 regulation win. Much to the chagrin of their fans, this stat comes as a frustrating realization to the team’s traditional demise. And alongside goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who’s consistently standing on his head and shutting down any offensive hope for Washington, the skater co-leading the charge on knocking pucks down is bearded enemy number one, Ian Cole.
The sun isn't out this morning.— Japers' Brink (@JapersRink) May 4, 2017
Presumably it, too, was blocked by Ian Cole.
In the four games played against the Capitals, Cole has already racked up 17 total blocked shots so far. That’s an average of 4.25 a game. Against a team like the Caps, with the amount of firepower their forward lines possess, this has to be awfully discouraging. It’s also a huge game-changing asset for the Penguins, especially when you’re behind in the SOG category. A certain toughness is required to lay down and brave the screaming slapshots coming straight at you, and Cole is no stranger to boasting his notable grit.
What’s impressive is that Cole had eight (!!!) blocked shots in Game 4. That’s double his already superb average, and what played a colossal role in Pittsburgh’s victory without Sidney Crosby. Cole also doubles as a grinder. He has 10 hits just in the Caps series, with six coming solely from Game 1. In his memorable Game 4 performance, the defenseman strung together three hits, one of them being a beautiful blow to Justin Williams. The guy knows how to lay the lumber.
Cole’s a player the city of Pittsburgh loves to have on its team. His method of squaring up to snipers is obviously proving to be succesful, and with 24 in Game 4, blocked shots are now commanding this series’ narrative (apart from injuries). If the Penguins can continue trending upwards by ensuring a ton of Washington shots don’t even make it to the net, Fleury will surely be thankful, and the scoreboard will stay low in the Capitals favor.
It’s a risky approach, but hopefully the Penguins can stay healthy — and victorious — in the process.